TRAVERSE CITY — Four parking lots in Traverse City are the focus of two separate but related pushes for infill or redevelopment, but proposals for three of them will have to wait a bit longer.
City commissioners agreed unanimously on Monday that they want to wait on a draft request for proposals until they see what developers think they could build in Lot G. The city Downtown Development Authority is currently asking for information on what kind of mixed-use building could go in the parking lot, near State and Union streets.
Submissions for Lot G are due April 15, with a formal presentation penciled in for late May or early June, DDA CEO Jean Derenzy previously said.
City commissioners could get a sneak peak if the information’s ready by their April 19 meeting. They agreed to push back further consideration of their own request for proposals for Lots O, T and X until then, or possibly later.
Waiting wasn’t the first choice for Commissioner Tim Werner, whose request in December to consider options for the three lots ultimately led to Mission North principal (and former DDA executive director) Rob Bacigalupi drafting a request for proposals.
But if that’s what would keep other city commissioners interested in redeveloping the surface lots — an idea for which he’s long advocated — then he could wait, he said.
“If it requires waiting a few weeks to keep the conversation going, it’s not my preferred approach, but if that’s what is needed to keep the conversation going, that’s what I’m all about,” Werner said.
In the draft are guidelines for buildings commissioners laid out over a handful of meetings, including that a substantial amount of apartments be rented at attainable rates. Specifically, they would be at rents affordable for people making 70 to 120 percent of Grand Traverse County’s Area Median Income as defined by Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
Commissioner Christie Minervini said she wanted a definition of what “substantial” means, and tighter limits on what kind of housing developers could build. While the draft request said the emphasis would be on year-around rentals, she wanted to bar condos outright.
While she agreed with placing a deed restriction on the land to ensure that attainable rents stay that way, that would put a dent in the land value. So she questioned a line in the request that would hold the city to selling the land at market rate.
“Perhaps we would even look at a discount, maybe 50 percent of market rate if we do a deed restriction,” she said, adding it was one of several other stipulations in the draft that seemed too vague.
Any development ought to focus on filling the biggest need for housing in the region, Mayor Jim Carruthers said. He pointed to studies finding the biggest and second-biggest needs among those earning less than $26,000 and those making between that and $40,000, respectively.
Carruthers said that young professionals have options opening, with new apartments in the $1,000- to $1,500-per-month range being built.
Some of those young professionals on the hunt for housing have considered leaving Traverse City because of the tight market, Traverse City Young Professionals member Connor Miller told commissioners. The organization supported the city’s push to redevelop the surface parking lots as mixed-use buildings with new homes.
Minervini questioned other particulars of the draft, like what kind of public outreach the city would do to get feedback on the proposals, and some assurance that developers would take that input into consideration.
Getting public input could be particularly important for Lot T, at the corner of Union Street and Grandview Parkway. Commissioners acknowledged that any redevelopment plans would likely be controversial, as it’s important parking for the nearby Sara Hardy Farmers Market plus downtown businesses and employees.
Bacigalupi said the city could look to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to handle outreach.
City resident Rick Buckhalter told commissioners that any comment session should be done in person, not online. He particularly wanted to hear from business owners who would be harmed by the loss of downtown parking.
“We need to have these people in front of a microphone telling you people what you need to hear,” he said.
Two of the lots — X and T — border city-owned walkways along the Boardman River, and Commissioner Brian McGillivary said the draft needed to clarify what would happen to public access along the riverbanks. He also wanted a clearer indication of whether Traverse City Light & Power would let go of Lot X — the land and adjacent substation on Hall Street belongs to the city-owned utility.
Otherwise, McGillivary was comfortable with a more open-ended ask. So too was Werner, who voiced concern about making housing requirements too narrow. A developer may use a high-priced condo to underwrite more attainable apartments in the same building, for example.
City leaders agreed to send Bacigalupi their suggested edits to keep refining the draft.